There’s a lot of attention focused on “Wonder Woman” and, to be fair, it’s with good reason. With the return to the original numbering of the series, the book hits the #600 milestone this month. It’s the first issue for J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer’s run on the book. There’s a whole host of additional big-name creators stopping by, like George Perez, Amanda Conner, Gail Simone, and Louise Simonson. Plus, an introduction from Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter and a large number of pin-ups. But with five stories this month, I couldn’t help but wish that we’d had less, not more.
Gail Simone and George Perez kick off the issue with a team up of just about every female superhero you can think of, fighting Professor Ivo’s cyber-sirens, who control the minds of men. It’s a fluff story for the most part, but as an excuse to have a huge team-up drawn by Perez? It’s hard to complain. Perez’s pencils are as lush and gorgeous as ever, and he and Simone make sure to give numerous characters the spotlight throughout the story. Long-time “Wonder Woman” readers will be more interested in the last two pages, though, which brings one character’s story to somewhat of a conclusion (although there’s certainly room for more down the line). It’s a nice way to end Simone’s time on “Wonder Woman,” and in doing so pay homage to one of the Perez-era characters as well.
Amanda Conner steps up next, writing and drawing a short story teaming up Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and Batgirl. If the last story was fluff, this one is perhaps doubly so, but it’s easily my favorite in the issue. Conner’s expressive art is always an absolute joy, walking that fine line between cartoonish and real. And while the story starts out in a typical fashion as the trio go up against Chang Tsu, Conner quickly subverts the reader’s assumptions and goes off in a far more interesting and entertaining series of scenes.
To be fair, while Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica’s story is my least favorite of the issue, it’s not bad, just uninspired. Wonder Woman is teamed up with Superman in this story as they fight Nikos Aegeus, using several magic items owned by the Greek gods to try and blackmail Washington D.C. before he destroys things every hour. The idea itself is slightly dull, but the bigger problem is that Simonson plays it straight, not bringing anything out of the ordinary to the story. Pansica’s art, likewise, isn’t bad but also doesn’t stand out in any way. While I’m normally all in favor of more comics from Simonson, in this case I’d rather the pages had gone over to one of the other stories in this issue.
Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins team up next for a story that leads directly into the final piece, and one that feels like a voiceover added to a movie when the test audience didn’t understand what was happening. It’s little more than a puff piece talking about not only the history of Wonder Woman, but her symbolism. “Diana is too undervalued by this world. This must change,” the narration states. While I tend to agree, having an editorial voice boom down from upon high to explain this is slightly cringe-worthy.
That said? It’s hard to not notice that the first three stories in “Wonder Woman” #600 all involve team-ups with other characters. Wonder Woman is a character that, despite being part of DC’s “Trinity,” doesn’t have the same sales power that Superman or Batman hold. It’s certainly not been for a lack of top-shelf creators working on the character, but for whatever reason it’s rare that people are talking about the character in an excited manner. So I understand why they’re going to temporarily take a different tactic with the character.
As for the story itself? It’s an all right introduction, but I wish those six Johns/Kolins pages had instead gone towards a longer first chapter for Straczynski and Kramer. Straczynski begins in media res, the new Wonder Woman fighting an unknown group of men and then reporting back to the secret group that takes care of her. From there we get the first parts of exposition, the glimmerings of explanation to readers who didn’t read any interviews or PR about Straczynski’s take on the character. It serves its function, and the addition of the Oracle to the supporting cast has some potential.
Of course, with change comes controversy. It’s hard to ignore that Straczynski all but admits that this change in Wonder Woman’s status quo is going to be temporary. (After all, how many times has Paradise Island been destroyed and then later reborn?) As the Oracle notes, “It might help you to understand… to see what you are fighting to restore… to save… to avenge.” Sooner or later, the subtext is yelling at us, Paradise Island will be back and presumably so will Wonder Woman’s previous origin as an ambassador to Man’s World.
Kramer’s an artist whose pencils I enjoyed a great deal on books like “JSA” back in the day, and I think he’s a good choice for “Wonder Woman.” There’s a lot of detail from him and inker Michael Babinski, but never sacrificing energy to do so. Kramer takes the Jim Lee-designed new outfit for Wonder Woman and makes it work well; the stars and stripes are gone, but in many ways it still feels like the old outfit with the W, the bird crest on the belt, and the tiara all still in place. Personally I’ve got no problem with pants and a belt; Kramer still makes it look sleek and fast-moving, and if Robin can have gone from wearing a green Speedo to a pair of pants, why can’t Wonder Woman do the same thing with her outfit? And of course, let’s face it: if this new direction doesn’t capture attention over the long run, part or all of the old outfit will come back. (I do have to shake my head at the boots, though. Even if you’re super-strong and invulnerable, those must not be as easy to run in as regular shoes.)
Still, it’s hard to judge the new “Wonder Woman” team based on just a ten page prologue; there’s promise, but I want to see what they do with “Wonder Woman” #601 to get a better feel for what’s in store for us as readers. Maybe if we’d had less pin-ups (to be fair, they are awfully nice) and more story pages this might not have been as much of a problem? If nothing else, though, it’s got people talking about Wonder Woman again. That’s a good sign. I’ll certainly stop back in next month to see what they do next.